Forces: The Shrinking Streitkrafte


June 16, 2010: Germany is reducing its armed forces (Streitkräfte) troop strength by 16 percent, to 210,000. The force is being reorganized to better deal with peacekeeping, and less with conventional warfare. During the Cold War, the West German army was 400,000 strong, well equipped and trained to fight. There were another 250,000 troops in the communist East German armed forces. But the Cold War ended in 1991, the two Germanys united and East German forces were disbanded and the West German military absorbed some of the East German troops, and began to shrink. With the Soviet Union gone, and the former Soviet allies in eastern Europe clamoring to join NATO, Germany no longer had any local enemies. The Cold War German army of Panzertruppen (mechanized troops) had lost its mission. Thus in two decades, German armed forces have been reduced to less than a third of their 1991 strength of 650,000.

Today, a reunited Germany has an army of peacekeepers. Well, only about 10,000 of them are involved in peacekeeping at any one time, out of 250,000 troops (soon to be 210,000). Not only is the army smaller, but it has older equipment, and less of it. Not much purchasing in the last fifteen years, and much of that to support peacekeeping missions.  The peacekeepers, particularly in Afghanistan, are getting more modern gear, and the expense of this is another reason for shrinking the size of armed forces.

 While the German army is smaller, it still depends on conscripts for about 25 percent of its troops. To make matters worse, most of the conscripts are in for only nine months (over a third volunteer to spend more time in uniform.) This goes down to six months later this year. So the conscripts spend most of their time in the army being trained to do something useful. That six month term of service also means that many units are in a perpetual state of low readiness, because so many of their troops are pretty green, and soon to be gone.

 Even with all those problems, Germany still has some useful troops for peacekeeping, and special operations. Just not many of them. The generals would like to have an all volunteer force, but for a long time the politicians, and public opinion, were opposed to this. That is changing, and the government is trying to abolish conscription, cut the army to under 150,000, and end up with a more capable force. That would probably work, although Germany would have to spend more than it does now ($37 billion a year) on defense.





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